erik lundegaard

300: Rise of an Empire
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300: Rise of an Empire (2014)

WARNING: SPOILERS

“300: Rise of an Empire” is a modern retelling of the Battle of Salamis in 480 B.C., when the Persian Empire, led by Xerxes I and his naval commander Artemisia (Rodrigo Santoro and Eva Green), took on the united Greek city-states under its commander Themistocles (Sullivan Stapleton). Though vastly outnumbered, the Greeks ultimately prevailed. Some scholars have suggested that without this victory, western civilization, and thus our modern world, wouldn’t have existed.

So how did Themistocles and Greece do it? Here’s our history lesson from “300” director Noam Murro and screenwriters Zack Snyder and Kurt Johnstad, who based the movie on an unpublished graphic novel by Frank Miller.

Written byZack Snyder
Kurt Johnstad
Directed byNoam Murro
StarringSullivan Stapleton
Eva Green
Lena Headey
Hans Matheson

Themistocles was totally winning an earlier battle against the Persian fleet, right? Like on the first day his ships form a circle so the Persians don’t know where to attack, and on the second day it’s foggy so he draws the Persian ships near Greece and dashes them on the rocks. This sexy chick, Artemisia, watching from her ship, totally digs this. She knows her dudes are nothing in comparison, so she invites Themistocles aboard where they have rough sex on tables and countertops and she asks him to join the Persian side, but he turns her down even as he’s got like a handful of tittie. Which totally pisses her off, right? Getting turned down like that? Chicks, right? So on the third day she dumps tar into the sea and lights it on fire, leaving Themistocles with just a couple of dudes. Plus his friend dies. The one with the son.

Now it looks really hopeless because Persia totally ruled then. Xerxes, the 10-foot-tall God-king of Persia, has already burned Athens; and King Leonidas and his 300 Spartans, the kick-ass dudes from the first movie, have bit it, too. Because this movie takes place like before, during and after that other one.

So now Themistocles tries to get Leonidas’ old lady, Queen Gorgo (the mean chick from “Game of Thrones”), to join their cause, and you think she would, for revenge and all, but no. She’s grieving, bro. Plus he’s Athens and she’s Sparta. But then Themistocles, he gives this kick-ass speech to his men about how it’s better to die on their feet than live on their knees, and they go, “Raaahhhhh!” And they’re like kicking ass against the Persians. But then sexy chick, Artemisia, she’s shouting, like, I’m not sticking on the sidelines, bro-men, and starts messing up dudes. And everything reverses. Ah, but our man Themistocles, he’s got a secret. It’s a horse. On his ship. And he rides his horse from his ship to the Persian ships, killing guys left and right. And this horse is like superhorse, man, cause he’s riding it not only on top of ships but like through burning ships and into the water and then up and out of the water and back onto a ship, until it’s just him and sexy chick left. And they go at it hot and heavy until they have swords at each other’s throats and no one makes a move. They just stand there staring at each other. Then “Game of Thrones” chick starts yakking out of nowhere about how sexy chick feels this breeze. And that’s the breeze of freedom, yo. Because here she comes, “Game of Thrones” chick, she and the Spartan Navy, like Han Solo at the end of the first “Star Wars.” And that’s when sexy chick dies and our dudes light up the Persians and go charging, rahrrrr, right at the screen, and boom!, credits, with Black Sabbath’s “War Pigs” blasting, bro.

Don’t you just love history?

Boy loving philosophers

The best thing you can say about “300: Rise of an Empire” is that it’s less Fascistic than the first. We even get some revisionist history. In “300,” the war between Xerxes and Leonidas started because rather than pay tribute to Xerxes, Leonidas kicked his Persian messenger into a bottomless pit. Apparently it was more complicated.

The war actually began 10 years earlier when, near the end of another battle, Themistocles picked up a spear on the shore and pierced the chest of King Darius of Persia (Igal Naor) standing on his ship, right in front of his son, Xerxes, who vowed revenge. But Darius, on his deathbed, tells him not to attack the Greeks because the gods favor them. Except Artemisia whispers in his ear that Darius wasn’t forbidding his son but challenging him. That’s when Xerxes wanders in the desert (why exactly?) and finds a mystical cave and bathes in the waters there. When he emerges, he’s bald, gold and 10-feet tall. As often happens.

Leonidas, in other words, wasn’t being unreasonable at the beginning of “300.” He was being provoked.

If the first movie is all about Sparta, this one is all about Athens, whom Leonidas had dismissed as “those philosophers, and, uh, boy lovers.” Sadly, we don’t hear much philosophy or see much boy loving, and while the Athenians are less martial than the Spartans, with fewer professional soldiers, it’s still the same drill: six-pack abs, slow-mo battles, slicing and dicing. It’s martial arts madness mixed with sandals and swords mixed with “Saw.” It’s yet another movie in which compromise is for mealy-mouthed politicians who are determined to weaken the country. They don’t know the enemy. They don’t know the meaning of ... freedom.

I’m curious how director Noam Murro got this gig. One credit, “Smart People,” a small indie film, and he’s handed this? Is it indicative of how little Warner Bros. thought of its franchise? Let’s hope so.

The new hero, Sullivan Stapleton, an Aussie, isn’t much, either. His right-hand men are less. Most everyone acts against a green screen while Eva Green simply overacts. What happened to her? She went from Bertolucci in 2003 to Bond in 2006 to “Dark Shadows” in 2012 and a Frank Miller doubleheader this year: sequels to “300” and “Sin City.” Blech. Talk about a downward trajectory.

War Pigs

Anyway, as you already knew, “300: Rise of an Empire” is a waste of time. I can’t imagine the mind of anyone who actually enjoys it. But I felt the same about “300.”

Final thought: Why “War Pigs” as a closing-credits song? Isn’t it an anti-war song?

Generals gathered in their masses
Just like witches at black masses
Evil minds that plot destruction
Sorcerers of death’s construction

It’s about the wealthy sending the poor to fight their battles. So what’s it doing at the end of this pro-war movie?

That’s what I was thinking at the end of the movie. And then it hit me anew. How awful is that? How awful to make a pro-war movie? How awful to create a story on film about righteous bloodlust and righteous cruelty and stopping an absolute evil in the name of western civilization? Movies like this, which make hundreds of millions of dollars, actually encourage people to like war. That’s where western civilization is right now. It’s almost enough to make you wish the Persians had won.

—March 19, 2014

© 2014 Erik Lundegaard

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